Friday, August 26, 2011

Electronic organs

While being a student of organ, I was always taught to look down on "electronic organs" (read: an organ without pipes. Which pianist would prefer to play an electric Clavinova over a Steinway?)
And, in my experience, this was easy to do. But I had pretty much only ever played 30+ year old electronic organs.

That's one of the big accusations against them--how many other electronic devices do you know that dont last more than a few years? So isn't it obvious that these organs will all need to be replaced within our lifetimes? Contrast that to "real" organs; many of the good ones last well over 100 years, and just need the occasional re-leathering.

Obviously, for most or all churches who end up buying a new electronic organ, price is a huge factor. A "real" organ will easily be $200,000+, whilst a nice, large, electronic organ could run $20,000-$50,000. (I *think* my figures are about right. I kind of guesstimated, based on little things I've picked up over the years.) While the electronic one is still expensive, I wonder if churches forget to factor that they will probably have to buy a new one in 30 years? (Well, maybe nowadays most churches aren't thinking that far ahead--they're wondering if they will even be open by then!)

Other than the replacement likelihood, the real organ has other advantages, like the enjoyablity of playing it and how it *sounds* better. (Like, it sounds "real.")

I used to think that I could tell the difference, but the extent of my experience was from the 30-year old Allen that my first church had. (It was an awful instrument, if you can call it that...) More recently, my fiance, has been pointing out the occasional electronic organ, that sounds quite impressive to me, and pointing out how it is not real (and he would know as he has played on lots of electronic organs!)

And my surprise has led me to being quite impressed with some of the sounds that I have heard! And recently, I even was able to spend some time playing a brand new, very impressive Rodgers. I was pleasantly impressed with how much I enjoyed playing it. One thing I noticed, (compared with the only one other electronic new organ I have played recently,) it was LOUD. The volume was much more comparable to that of a real organ. For some situations, a single stop was enough. There was even one rank that I could not believe that didn't have pipes (it was a bourdon in the pedal for which a few of the middle notes, I *heard* some breathy, wind noise. [sorry, I don't know what the technical term for that is. I hope the organists understand!]) I looked for the pipes, and there didn't seem to be even a hidden rank, but, I should mention that the organist of that church was not there to verify if it did not have any ranks of pipes.

So what is this post about? My genuine surprise at the level of quality of some (at least one!) of the more recent electronic organs. Would I ever encourage a church to buy one? No. I will always value the artistic value of the craftsmanship that goes into making a pipe organ, as well as the other reasons listed above, and others I probably haven't mentioned, but I won't disdain some of the newer electronic organs as much as I used to.

No comments: